The central government on Sunday ordered the sealing of state and district borders across the country in a bid to stop community transmission of coronavirus by migrant workers, and warned that violators face 14-day quarantine. But thousands continued to march on highways as the nationwide positive cases neared 1000 with at least 25 dead.
As the 21-day lockdown entered its 5th day, the exodus ofmigrant workers from big cities continued unabated, desperate to return totheir villages after being left jobless and many of them without food orshelter.
Charitable organisations, volunteers, religious institutionsand government bodies including Railway Protection Force fed tens of thousandsof people across the nation but many more remained outside the safety net.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his 'Mann Ki Baat' radiobroadcast, sought the nation's forgiveness for the hardships caused by thestringent nationwide lockdown, saying it was necessary because the country wasfighting a battle between life and death.
He, however, expressed confidence that "we willdefinitely win the battle" against the coronavirus menace and praised thefront-line workers in this fight against as well as countless workersdelivering the essential services.
The total number of positive cases rose by 106 in the last24 hours and six deaths reported in this period, according to official figures.The new cases, which included a SpiceJet pilot with no history of internationaltravel, were reported from the national capital's satellite town Noida, Biharand Maharashtra, among other states.
A migrant worker reportedly died of heart attack in UttarPradesh after walking more than 200 kms on way to his hometown in MadhyaPradesh from Delhi.
A panic-like situation emerged due to mass exodus of migrantworkers from various parts of the country, including the national capital,Maharashtra and Kerala, where thousands of people came out of relief camps anddemanded being allowed to go to their homes.
"People are talking about the danger of some viruswhich can kill all of us. I don't understand all these. As a mother, I ampained when I cannot feed my children. No one is there to help. All are equallyworried about their lives," Savitri, 30, a New Delhi slum dweller, told PTI as she walked along the Mathura Highwaycarrying her belongings on her head.
"We will die of hunger before any disease if we stayhere," she said, determined to walk 400 kms to her village in UttarPradesh's Kannauj district.
Hundreds of migrant workers also gathered again near theAnand Vihar terminus near the Delhi-UP border, hoping to board buses to theirvillages but they were turned back by police. A large number were seek walkingin groups on highways and even on railway tracks.
Concerned over such movements causing the risk of acommunity spread, the Centre asked state governments and Union Territoryadministrations to effectively seal all state and district borders and warnedthat those violating the curbs will be sent to 14-day quarantine in governmentfacilities.
During a video conference with chief secretaries and DGPs,Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla asked themto ensure that there is no movement of people across cities or on highways asthe lockdown continues.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Maharashtra'sUddhav Thackeray, among other state leaders, asked migrant workers in theirrespective states stay put and promisedthem food and other facilities.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also wrote to Modi, saying thesudden lockdown has created immense "panic" and"confusion". He called for steps other than a total lockdown announcedby some developed nations to tackle the deadly disease.
Gandhi said the number of poor people in India who aredependent on a daily income is too large to unilaterally shut down all economicactivities in the wake of the pandemic.
"The consequences of a complete economic shut down willdisastrously amplify the death toll arising from COVID19," he feared.